8 March 2021

"We should be asking how we attract the talent of the future"

Ruth Middleton, chief risk officer at AIG Life (UK), talks to Ronan McCaughey about careers for women in the insurance sector – and ways to increase gender diversity in insurers’ risk functions

Ruth Middleton

Is it becoming easier for women to hold leadership and senior risk management roles at insurers?

It has always been my experience that businesses with a genuine culture of equity and inclusion make it possible for individuals to develop and become a leader if they want to – regardless of gender, ethnicity or background.

More broadly, it is recognised that diverse teams are beneficial for idea generation and problem-solving. Gender diversity is one part of that jigsaw.

"What can we do to encourage more women, and people of all backgrounds, to consider a career in insurance risk management?"

The question we should be asking ourselves is how we attract the talent of the future: what can we do to encourage more women, and people of all backgrounds, to consider a career in insurance risk management? How can the women in senior risk management roles today be role models to encourage the talent of tomorrow?

At the higher education (university) level, we see women being encouraged to consider STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects for their degree. This can provide a pipeline to considering actuarial / risk management roles for a career. What we need to do more is showcase how fulfilling a career in risk and insurance can be.

Those of us in senior risk management need to actively encourage the diverse talent of tomorrow – with us as role models – to help them understand what a rewarding, challenging and interesting career risk management can provide. From my own experience, it is such role models – of all genders – that have inspired me.

Could insurers do more to encourage women to enter insurance risk management?

We need to project that insurance, and risk management in particular, is an exciting and challenging profession where all employees, including women, can reach the highest levels and get the rewards and job satisfaction of doing a job well.

We can do that by also showing how the work we do helps people from all walks of life.

I have benefitted from seeing talented and capable women in senior positions throughout my insurance career. Seeing people that you can relate to, in successful risk management careers, is a great way to encourage women to enter insurance.

I consider my manager, Kathy Anderson, CRO of life and retirement at AIG, and her manager Alessa Quane, a former chief actuary and CRO at AIG prior to her recent departure, to be incredible role models.

"The biggest thing insurers can do is encourage staff to be allies for all forms of diversity"

AIG runs a Women’s Executive Leadership Initiative – a global programme that helps develop female talent. Talent progression programmes like this bring real benefits to companies as well as individuals. By allowing women to develop and discuss issues, in a safe environment, we hold a mirror up to our behaviours and force us to consider how women, and their companies, can work synchronously.

Ultimately, this is for the benefit of everyone because it improves the company culture and supports employee loyalty.

I think the biggest thing insurers can do is encourage staff to be allies for all forms of diversity. Over my career, the moments that are etched in my memory are those where colleagues have stood up for me because they felt others were being discriminatory or judgmental based on a perceived stereotype.

Having these “cheerleaders” has encouraged me to be confident. I think we all have a responsibility to have others’ backs and be supportive allies.